If you are intending to read Bourdieu’s ‘Distinction’, for which, no doubt, you’ll need a lot of time and quiet, the Métafort Hotel in France’s Méthamis might just be the hotel for you. But it’s equally a great place to stay if you’re into cycling some of this year’s Tour de France itinerary. Giving yourself enough days makes accomplishing both possible. I’ve opted for the reading choice but ended up doing more of the cycling, even though I’m the better runner. Thankfully the Métafort has a range of massages to choose from, including a very effective sports one, after which you’ll sleep like a baby and be ready for the next day’s adventure.
The rough countryside contrasts starkly with the welcome and love you’ll find everywhere in this place, starting with the layout of the garden with its hidden, cosy refuges, the lighting of which when night falls, the dramatic position of the pool right at the edge of the cliff, the organic, home-made breakfast served and the tasteful rooms’ interior design with its warmth from rustic, Provençal elements such as the white and brown linen balanced out with colder, post-modern design elements and the southern light flowing through the airy spaces. Well, occasionally the Mistral comes to say hello – that’s when you might want to close the window shutters – but don’t worry, tomorrow will be bikini time again.
Having built everything from scratch inside and outside a house dating from the 18th century, Isa and Philippe Lichtenthurn are as unpretentious as the result of their labour. They might not get everything right, but it’s not the place where you worry about having to cut yourself the tart made freshly from apricots picked in the neighbouring garden the day before, having to do the dishes if you feel like cooking any time of the day or night or that the cleaners have their day off on Sundays. The reigning ‘my house is your house’ attitude actually feels so refreshing compared with other, oh so strict and undynamic French boutique hotels. Furthermore, the couple do everything for you to make life easy; a pick-up from the Carpentras train station, handing out maps and giving tips for great walks and trips or even baking gluten and dairy free cakes if the fashionable allergies are in town are just a few examples.
Whether it’s the staircase or the pillowcase, you’ll be enveloped by some divine, delicate Provençal scents that like the music in the downstairs area or integrated in the room’s jacuzzi including the voices of artists such as Bon Iver, are just enough to create a light and enjoyable atmosphere without overpowering the natural calm. Calm is what surrounds the town of Métafort, whichever direction you take. A must is a bike/foot/motorbike/car trip to Venasque, rated the 10th most beautiful town in France out of 158, and rightly so. This early medieval settlement features relics of ancient times, such as three towers erected to protect against invasion, the truly impressive church planned back in 1258 or the baptistery, one of France’s oldest, while offering a stunning view over the Nesque valley right until Mont Ventoux at 1912m, another legendary destination for the eager cyclists. Also worth a visit is the Abby Nôtre Dame de Sénanque, picturesquely placed in its purple lavender fields, and the Cisterian monk monastery from 1148. Going back up by bike puts you on the route of the Tour de France 2016 and the most stunning views on a downhill towards Venasque, or the other way, westward, which proves hot training for hot legs. Time to feed the body.
Only on Saturdays is dinner served in the hotel, and for that it’s a one-woman show, but not only for that reason, is it truly amazing, and Isa’s passion for food is cleary seen. Accompanied with excellent wines from the region, with Chateauneuf-du-Pape being the most renowned one, served in front of a setting that’s a feast to the eye and dipped in the reds and pinks of a stunning sunset with an orange moon rising, it’s borderline kitsch but again, it’s the unpretentiousness that turns it into the right kind of awe. If you can’t get enough of looking at the universe, there’s one room with a bed that slides out onto the balcony and right under the stars. You’ll be leaving the Métafort filled with happiness.